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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, November 18, 2004; 1:00 PM

Just two weeks since formally ended his bid for the White House, what will Sen. John F. Kerry's role be in the Democratic Party? How will the President Bush's shifting cabinet affect his second term? Should Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) be appointed chairman of the Judiciary Committee?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions on the campaigning, the candidates and last night's debate.

Terry Neal (post.com)

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Terry Neal: Good afternoon all (and good morning to those of you out west). Welcome back to my regular weekly chat. I'm looking forward to it. So let's jump right in.



St. Marys, Ga.: Terry,
Do you see a backlash of the new "very" conservative freshmen congressmen. Will the American voters look for more moderate candidates in the 2006 elections?

Terry Neal: I'm not really sure how this all will play out in a couple years. I will say that it is common for the party of a second-term incumbent to lose seats in Congress in the midterm election. Clinton was one of the few presidents who reversed that trend.
If history is any guide and you look back to 1994, when the very conservative freshman class entered the Congress, it would seem to suggest that there might be some backlash in a couple years. After '94, the GOP didn't start really picking up seats again in any meaningful way until the 2002 midterms.
But who knows. The election of a couple weeks ago would have taught us all that every election is unique to some extent and establishes it's own paradigm. So we'll see.


Lexington, Ky.: Could Senator Kerry recover sufficiently from the scars and the smears of the recent campaign to pursue successfully the presidency in four years (like Ronald Reagan), or will the Democrats not be willing to trust to that possibility?

Terry Neal: Could he recover and run again? Certainly. There was no shame in his loss in the sense that it wasn't a blowout by any means. While he lost the popular vote by about 3.5 million votes, a shift of 70,000 votes or so in one state (Ohio) would have made him the president. I mean, this wasn't Reagan/Mondale, here.
Nonetheless, I think he'd have some real trouble capturing the nomination if he did run. Many of the Democrats I talk to believe he ran a poor campaign and ultimately was a bad candidate. They argue that Bush was weak and a really good candidate would have been able to defeat him. They don't view what happened on Nov. 2 as anything more than the rejection of a weak candidate.
I'm not saying I agree or disagree with this sentiment. But I know there are many Democrats who are looking forward to moving forward and identifying some strong, new candidates who can compete for votes everywhere, including in the South and Midwest in a way that Kerry will probably never be able to do.


Washington, D.C.: After a little doubt, it now seems that Specter's going to get the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee after all. Do you think he'll feel pressure to push through Bush's nominations of pro-life judges to prove that he's no Republican turncoat, or will he follow his own moderate, pro-choice beliefs?

Terry Neal: Good question. And of course, it's very difficult to predict what the senator will do. He's played the role of maverick (remember his efforts to keep Bork off of the Supreme Court) and loyal team player (remember his questioning of Anita Hill).
Specter seems to have mollified his GOP colleagues for now, but I think if he comes to be seen as an obstructionist to socially conservative causes, you might see an uprising of epic proportions. This should be one of the more interesting stories to watch unfold in the Senate over the next few years.


Baltimore, Md.: Exit polls for 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections have been "inaccurate". Though these polls have been very accurate before the 2000 election, do you think Ed Gillespie is correct in calling for exit polls to be eliminated? Has anyone come up with a reason these post election polls are so "off".

Terry Neal: Thank you for your question. It's a good one. Let me answer it this way...I think exit polls are absolutely essential to analyzing elections after the fact. All of the good information we get about who voted, how they voted, why they voted...all of the good demographic breakdowns, all of that stuff comes from exit polls.
Exit polls are a better tool for after-the-fact analysis than they are for predicting the outcome of elections.
My next point is this: What people, including Gillespie, don't seem to understand is that exit polls are just that--they are polls, not actual vote counts. So if a poll says Kerry leads Bush by 2 points in Ohio, and Bush ends up winning Ohio by 2 points, that doesn't mean the poll was wrong. Why? Well, first of all, that poll, like all polls, has a margin of error, probably around 4 percent. Second of all, that poll might have been right on track at the time that it was taken at, say 2 p.m. in the afternoon.
I think the mainstream media did a great job of doing what it was supposed to do--not releasing exit poll numbers in individual states until voting ended in those states.
And that's what should continue to happen. The fact the people like Drudge and other websites are able to get their hands on leaked exit polls is not a good enough reason to eliminate this very important resource.


Washington, D.C.: So do you see John Edwards ever becoming the "strong" candidate the Democrats need?

Terry Neal: Well, I think the real problem for Edwards is, how does he address his biggest weakness--the perception that he is too inexperienced--over the next four years, if he were to want to run again.
Now that he's out of the Senate, he can't continue building his resume there. So my question is, how does he both stay in the public spotlight and continue gaining experience and gravitas over the next four years if he's not in office. So I think it will be difficult for him if he wants to run again in four years. The degree of that difficulty depends on how he spends these next few years.


Centreville, Va.: The media seems to be obsessed with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I heard all over the news that an amendment was being considered so that a non-native born citizen could run for President just so Arnold could run. The talking heads and news anchors alike were reporting on it with smiles and glee. However in the fine print it was reported that 87 percent of Americans do not like the idea. That is 87 percent! Yet the media talked and talked and talked about it as if it was a done deal. I find this kind of "reporting" very annoying.

Terry Neal: Hello neighbor (I live in Centreville, too)...
Well, it must have been fine print, because I hadn't heard or seen that 87 percent number. Whatever the case, the whole point of a public relations campaign, which this essentially is, is to change public perception.
But look, the requirement for a constitutional amendment is so stringent, that it probably could pass even if a slight majority of people supported the idea.


Albemarle, N.C.: When are the political commentators going to wake up and realize that the Bush administration has thrown away the rule book and is writing their own? Every time I read something about "they can't do that because, historically, lame duck" yada, yada, yada, I have to laugh. Were these people asleep during the last four years? Bush came out of the 2000 elections and governed like he had a 99 percent majority of the vote and won the past election in spite of the high negatives that historically, there's that word again, have defeated incumbents.

These guys are going to go like a steam roller on tax and Social Security changes. I will bet money that we will have a flat tax and privatized Social Security in the next four years. Moderate foreign policy, ha! The Iranians had better start filling sand bags now. The Bush administration firmly believes that perception is reality. They are pushing the perception that everything is great and so far domestically it seems to be working. We will see if the rest of the world will go along. Right or wrong the Bush adminstration is the most revolutionary since the Roosevelt New Deal adminstration.

Terry Neal:
This is more of a statement than a question, but I guess if I were to respond to it, I'd say that I find all of this debate over whether Bush has a mandate kind of silly. Why do people feel like this is a question that must be answered before the man is even sworn in for his second term.
The term mandate is kind of like the term market value. Market value is basically, whatever you can get for some commodity or service. I can tell you my house has a market value of a million dollars, but what does that mean really until I sell it for that much?
Mandate is the same thing. The president will try to get as much as he can on his key issues. He'll spend political capital to achieve it. Democrats will fight him where they feel they have to. And we'll know at the end of his term whether he had a mandate.


Rochester Hills, Mich.: As a Republican, I am frankly ashamed of the altering of the House Rules to protect Tom DeLay. Are Republicans committing political suicide? I don't understand why they are going out of the way to protect him? He may have been a good whip but having him as the face of the party is a bad idea. He is far too easy to demonize on top of the fact that he is corrupt.

Terry Neal: I think the Republicans might have a stronger case had Delay not already been rebuked (I may have used the wrong technical term here, so don't shoot me if I did) by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee. That fact makes it a little harder for them to claim that he is merely being persecuted by a crazy, partisan prosecutor.
This is one of these things that, whatever the truth may be, has the appearance of something fishy. The Republicans adopted this rule 10 years ago when Democrats were in power. Now they want to make an exception for their own.
I think Democrats are jumping for joy that Republicans changed the rules to protect Delay. The second part of their prayers will be answered if he's indicted and continues to hold the majority leader post through the midterm elections.


Virginia: Your chat is coinciding with the dedication of President Clinton's library. Are you able to watch the event while you type? Any thoughts? Do Presidential libraries really do anything other than attempt to deify?

Terry Neal: I am catching bits and pieces of it. My most immediate reaction is a visceral one of the image of all of these presidents on the stage at the same time. Not to be corny about it, but I think it sends a powerful image to the world about Democracy and the peaceful and respectful transition of power.
I think these libraries are important. Whoever the American presidents is, is the most powerful person on the planet. Preserving that history in a presidential library seems perfectly reasonable to me.


What the media is supposed to do: Why is it acceptable to release information about presidential polling while some polls are still open?

I think the media should sit on that until -all- the polls have closed. They can report on congressional, senatorial, and gubernatorial races until 11pm EST.

Terry Neal: It's not acceptable. And the mainstream media did not do that this year. For instance, the media didn't release Michigan exit poll data until people in Michigan were done voting.
That's the way it should be.


Terry Neal: All righty folks, I've got to run. It's been a pleasure. We'll skip next Thursday because of the holiday. So let's chat again in a couple weeks.
Talk to ya then.



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